A Healthy Stepmother . . . on advice about holidays.

In many ways, the holidays are simply our daily lives on steroids, an intensive twist for a month. So, whether it’s the physical doing, the emotional hurricane, or the worry exhaustion, it’s a good idea to start by getting grounded in the day-to-day with books like Stepmonster, Wednesday Martin, and The Happy Stepmother, Rachelle Katz (I wish the title was The Happy Enough Stepmother, less pressure). That said, Katz beautifully describes the difference between what stepmothers hope and a realistic expectation. Throughout the book she offers examples, and plenty of them. Thank you, we needed that!

English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymo...

English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advice about how to survive the holidays abounds. My favorites are from Wednesday Martin in her 10 Day Countdown to the Holidays from 2009. Start with Holiday Tip #1 and work your way through.

My holiday strategies from years past are herehere, and here (my favorite).

This year, I’d like to encourage you to ramp up the self-soothing to your maximum levels. Here in the U.S., we’ve just come through one of the most anxiety-provoking presidential races in our time and the general tone of daily life remains edgy, to say the least. Combine the traumatic events around the world with the growing list of folks we know who are losing jobs or looking, add a few major healthcare issues and a difficulty with an ex-spouse or a child, and the fact we’re doing as good as we’re doing is a minor miracle.

Maybe there are ways to streamline the holidays or do less, but we haven’t found them at our house. Every year, my husband and I think we will have fewer events, we will cook less, and we will worry less. We never do. It’s a complicated situation, we’re a stepfamily and he and I are both children of divorce. If we do less, we cut out our important people. That’s not going to happen.

So, we’ve become realistic. We’ve changed our expectations from having a great time to simply gathering and letting things go as they will. And really, the point of this post is to say that perfect holidays, whatever they are, are undefinable. What is perfect for one person is awful for someone else. In fact, we now deem a messy holiday that turns out fairly decent to be successful. There have been some that surprised us, when the kids insisted that we open our presents first and they paid close attention to our reactions. And, we stay connected in our hearts by working together to make the days and events what they are.

Given the difficulty society has with coping with stepfamilies, the difficulties stepfamilies have with coming to peaceful interactions, for us to hang on to the idea that we could somehow just be good enough or do things just-right enough for everyone to have a nice time . . . well, we decided to let that go. There was nothing left to do but increase self-care. My husband and I do that in different ways, but we support one another 100% in getting self-care needs met.

My strategy is to practice what I teach. Yesterday, my client reminded me of the first class she attended just before Thanksgiving a year ago. We were doing a lesson on posture and scanning the position of the head and legs and arms while lying on the floor. Not long after that class she found herself serving dinner to a houseful of relatives with all levels of closeness and difficulties. At one point, she realized she was struggling so she slipped upstairs to lie on the floor in her bedroom. Her husband came to find her about 10 minutes later. As he looked down at her, he asked her if she was doing okay. I am now, she replied.

I love her story and I use a number of strategies (see the self-soothing series). I love when slowing down, noticing posture, and becoming more aware of my physical nature calms me. It’s as simple as tracking my breath in and out. It’s as elegant as noticing where one foot is on the ground and if I am using the whole foot to support me in standing. It’s as obvious as wearing comfortable clothing and shoes so I can breathe and feel like the woman I know myself to be.

Maybe you won’t have time to go lie down on the floor. Maybe you won’t have time to lock yourself in the bathroom, stand against the door, and let your weight be held up by the door and your feet. Maybe you won’t be able to walk the dogs around the block and get some fresh air. But, maybe you can imagine you are breathing. Maybe you can imagine you are walking tall.

As soon as you imagine yourself with tall posture, full breath, and a calm voice, you’ll notice that not so much later, those things are there, for real.

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10 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . on advice about holidays.

  1. After starting to read your blog, I finally made the decision to get some tools, I bought the Happy Stepmother, boy, I shouldn’t have waited so long. I started setting limits and focusing on me more, and amazingly, everything didn’t fall apart (sarcasm).

    This year I am going to take the advice of just letting things happen. I am not going to make myself crazy trying to make the holidays perfect for everyone. I am going to focus on the good things I am thankful for and not worry about the rest. Easier said than done, but my goal nonetheless

    • Nice……very nice. I love when things happen that way. And, it does seem like a miracle, doesn’t it? When you do set limits and the sky doesn’t fall in. I used to feel like Chicken Little, but happily, I’m in chill mode 80% of the time. That’s good enough. Hope your experience feels satisfying after you’ve done less, even if it’s not as much less as you dreamed of (hope that makes sense). Best of luck, would enjoy hearing how it goes. And, Stepmonster is worth the investment as well.

      • I looked at it but It didn’t speak to me. I don’t really have any conflicting emotions when it comes to the kids or the boyfriend, or about my role in my family. The main issues right now are the ex, a lack of appreciation, and trying to juggle everything. I bought A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom by Jacquelyn B. Fletcher, it seemed more fitting.

        As for the appreciation part, lately it has resolved itself, I’m planning a blog post about that, just need to find the time lol.

        The rest I’m working on with the hubby. I’m very locky to have a guy who is an active partner in helping me be a better stepmom.

  2. Thank you for the tips and tricks….serendipitous timing! Yesterday I experienced a serious case of angst…. thinking about Christmas and trying to plan some strategies to avoid past mis-steps with my partner during the “most wonderful time of the year!” No expectations there, eh? :-). Still have a long way to travel to get and stay peaceful. I have to tell you, your articles help in a big way….and freak me out how great your timing can be! Happy Thanksgiving (we had our turkey deal in Canada in October – have fun with yours!) Cheers.

    • Ahhh, I’d love to take credit for being so perceptive, but reality is all stepmother types are involved in similar routines in much the same way all moms have similar issues. We’re different, but the same.

      And yeah, that most wonderful time of the year . . . we are here in our house living out the dream. Today, was a good day, we’ll chalk it up in the winner category. In the meantime, our next-door neighbor’s house is filled with her parents (divorced for 20+ years) celebrating with her brothers. My neighbor is gone, to her husband’s family for the holiday, but her parents needed a place to stay since they both live out of town. Makes perfect, logical sense, you know….save the hotel fees, the daughter has lots of room, and I can’t get them off my mind. How do they do it? There’s the dad and his long-time partner, and there’s the mom, still single. And, of course, the brother(s). My hat is off to them. They gather here on our street at least two or three times a year to catch up with their kids. It’s amazing, when you get right down to it.

  3. I am more hopeful going into the holidays this year than I ever have been since starting to read Stepmonster. I am practising disengaging and self-soothing and it’s working. It really is! I discussed all of this with my husband and he has been so agreeable and understanding. What a relief! And since most of the changes I’ve made are in my own head, my stepdaughter (who lives with us) hasn’t seemed to notice any change in her life, or in her relationship with me. No one is suffering here. Halleluiah!
    One day at a time….

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